With the countdown to the Breeders Cup heating up, there are no fewer than five Grade 1 races at Belmont Park on Saturday. Here, we take a look at the main contenders in these five "Super Saturday" events, in racecard order:
BELDAME INVITATIONAL (off 15.09 local time, 20.09 BST)
As in last year's renewal of this race, top US mare Royal Delta is challenged by another high-class filly, this time in the shape of the best three year old of her sex, Princess of Sylmar. A year ago, Royal Delta brushed aside It's Tricky with a crushing nine-and-a-half-length win, and sets the standard again this year, looking as good as ever on her last two starts, recording Timeform form ratings of 128 both times.
Princess of Sylmar has proved herself the best of her generation this season, having come from humble beginnings, but this is a different test for her. With a Timeform form rating of 124 and in receipt of just 3lb from her older rival (Timeform's WFA scale suggests it should be 5lb at this time of year), she looks up against it here. Tactically, she would also appear to be at a disadvantage, as there seems to be every chance that Royal Delta could get to control her own fractions on the front end.
The rest of the field look outclassed, and this should be a race to savour, rather than bet in.
VOSBURGH INVITATIONAL (off 16.13 local time, 21.13 BST)
The Vosburgh is the traditional East Coast prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and features last year's winner The Lumber Guy, who went on to finish second at Santa Anita in November. Since that day, though, The Lumber Guy has looked a shadow of his former self, his best Timeform form rating this season being 110, a long way below the 122 he recorded in California last season.
Strapping Groom and Justin Phillip finished first and third in last month's G1 Forego at Saratoga, although the latter was some way below his best that day, and should appreciate dropping back in trip from seven to six furlongs here.
Forty Zone, Bahamian Squall, Palace, and Private Zone are all squarely in the mix too, in what is a wide-open event. The Lumber Guy would be a clear choice if we could be certain he was going to recapture his form from last season, but that looks a very big if at the moment.
FLOWER BOWL INVITATIONAL (off 16.45 local time, 21.45 BST)
Top on Timeform form ratings, Laughing appears to have this race at her mercy. As well as setting a very clear standard on the figures, she is also the only regular front-runner in the field (although Mystical Star has led occasionally). An all-the-way winner of last month's G2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga, she's also the only G1 winner in a race that looks somewhat below-par.
Somali Lemonade, in receipt of 5lb from Laughing, would appear to be the one to provide the stiffest challenge. Realistically, though, it will be a disappointing if Laughing, who appears to be still on the upgrade, can't win this with the minimum of fuss.
JOE HIRSCH TURF CLASSIC (off 17.17 local time, 22.17 BST)
While Point Of Entry is still the top middle-distance turf horse in the US, according to Timeform form ratings, he has a rapidly emerging challenger in Big Blue Kitten. Chad Brown's five-year-old has really moved forward significantly since stepping up in trip on his last two starts. Indeed, his last win in the G1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga was a career-best effort, seemingly even more impressive by virtue of him quickening from the rear, despite the race unfolding at a steady pace. His rating of 125 is only 3lb below the best figure of the currently-sidelined Point Of Entry, and makes him the top rated horse in this field, albeit only narrowly from Little Mike.
Little Mike's current rating of 124 was earned last season when winning the Breeders' Cup Turf, but he has looked a shadow of his former self since returning from a failed trip to Dubai in the Spring. Boisterous and Imagining form a two-pronged entry from Shug McGaughey, but with John Velazquez jocked up on both, it appears that only one will start. On our figures, Boisterous would provide stiffer opposition to Big Blue Kitten than Imagining. The remainder appear to have a bit to find, and Big Blue Kitten rates banker material here.
JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP (17.49 local time, 22.49 BST)
Game On Dude and Fort Larned are currently the top-two middle-distance dirt horses in the States, based on Timeform form ratings, but not far behind them is the rapidly-emerging Cross Traffic. Having only made his debut in January, Cross Traffic proved that he was the real deal when making all the running in the G1 Whitney at Saratoga, over a mile and a furlong. He now has to prove that he can stretch that speed out for another furlong in this event. The signs are positive - he certainly didn't seem to be stopping at the end of the Whitney - and despite being a front-runner, he's not a headstrong type. There isn't much else in the way of speed in the race either, so an easy lead could be a distinct possibility.
Cross Traffic's biggest threat could come from his own stable-mate, the year-younger Palace Malice. Having previously won the G1 Belmont and the G2 Jim Dandy, nothing went right for him the G1 Travers last time, missing the break and ending up further back than ideal in race that was run at a tepid pace. That effort is best forgiven.
Flat Out saves his best for this track, and is sure to run his race. He'll make sure that the two Pletcher inmates don't have things all their own way on the road to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Kentucky Derby winner Orb has not gone on to be the horse that many thought he'd become back on the first Saturday in May, and he must go down as a rather disappointing Classic winner, while Alpha and Ron The Greek are solid, but not exceptional performers at this level.
All in all, this race looks like being a shootout between Cross Traffic and Palace Malice, with Cross Traffic taken to emerge victorious.
Back Laughing in the Flower Bowl
Back Big Blue Kitten in the Joe Hirsch
Back Cross Traffic in the Jockey Club Gold Cup
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